Info Library

Animal Data > Mara

(Dolichotis patagonum)

Status Distribution Sexually Mature
Near Threatened Central and southern Argentina 8 months
Number of Young Gestation Life Span
2 240 days 14 years

The mara (Patagonian cavy) is a large rodent from the open plains of central and southern Argentina. Its habitat consists of open scrub desert and grassland. The harsh environment means that the animal has had to adapt to survive there. Mara have excellent sight and hearing, and long legs enabling them to run over 1 km at 45 km/h. The mara has several different gaits - from walking to hopping, galloping and 'spronking' (bouncing on all fours). It has large ears (like a rabbit's) and its body and legs are similar to those of a small deer. There are a number of carnivores that prey on the Mara, including species of fox and eagle and the jaguar, so its fugitive lifestyle is comparable to that of antelope and deer in other areas.

Unlike most rodents, the mara is monogamous - when they find a mate they will stay with that partner for the rest of their life. This is because the female is only receptive to the male a couple of times a year and so he follows her around so as not to miss his 'opportunity'. The female looks after the young on her own so needs plenty of food to provide her energy. While feeding she is very vulnerable to predators, so having the male around as an extra 'look-out' also increases her chances of survival.

There is often drought in the open grasslands, and at these times mara herd together in groups of 50 - 100. Even at this time the male and female stay together. The only other time the mara form groups is in the breeding season when 1 - 15 pairs will dig a large burrow for all their offspring. When the pups (usually twins) are born they are covered in fur (unlike many other animals which are born naked). Born outside the burrow, the pups crawl inside during their first hour. Within 24 hours they start to graze around the entrance. All the pups, and there can be up to 20, appear to get on well together in their 'nursery' burrow, and their chances of survival are increased by the communal arrangement. The pups are fully weaned at 11 weeks and leave the burrow at 4 months.

Main Features

A large, deer-like rodent, grey-brown in colour, with a white rump.

Mara have exceptionally long back legs, which means they can run vast distances to survive in their open habitat.

In Captivity

The mara can be seen in several zoos in Britain and is a popular attraction. The species breeds well in captivity. Captive breeding success is becoming more important as numbers in the wild are declining due to competition with the introduced European hare. However, mara are no longer killed for their pelt.

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